Have you ever taken a walk in the woods and felt your stress melt away? Or sat beside a stream, listening to the water, and found your mind soothed in natural environments? If so, you’re not alone. Studies into biophilic design patterns in primary schools have shown that time in nature has countless benefits for our children’s physical, mental and emotional well-being. These same studies have also shown that children are spending less time outside than ever before.

By accelerated rates, many children today are growing up in modern society to be indoor kids. This has led educators and designers to begin looking at ways of incorporating nature into educational spaces and learning environments.

One strategy is called biophilia; meaning creating spaces in the built environment that evoke an affinity with nature. We spoke to Biophilic designer Lisa Norton of Harrogate Garden Design on how biophilic design in schools can help increase learning outcomes while reducing stressors on students and faculty.

greenwalls are a great example of Biophilic Design in Schools
A greenwall is a living wall system and can be easily introduced to a primary school

What are the advantages of biophilic design in schools and classrooms?

Biophilic design in the learning environment can enhance students’ physical and mental health by improving their well-being and reducing stress. This can be accomplished in a variety of ways, whatever the physical environment or budget. Here are some ways that using biophilic design principles in your classroom can reduce stress, improve concentration, and allow your students mental wellbeing to flourish.

  • A colour scheme based on nature to relax students

Being surrounded by earthy greens and browns or the calm blues of a lake, one of the key benefits of being outdoors, is that it calms down the mind. Some scientists believe that the colour green lowers stress levels because the body associates it with vegetation, even when there are no trees or plants present.

Something as simple as changing the wall colours can make a big difference in the student’s mental well-being. Natural colours can turn the room into a calm space and combat nature deficit disorder.

Being surrounded by earthy greens and browns or calm blues of a lake, one of the key benefits of being outdoors, is that it calms down the mind. Some scientists believe that the colour green lowers stress levels because the body associates it with vegetation, even when there are no trees or plants present. The use of natural colour themes are a key element in biophilic design.

An interior space with green plants and natural light utilising biophilic design
Transforming interior space with green plants and natural light is a key element of biophilic design
  • Natural light to boost performance and mood

Research demonstrates that classrooms with natural light have higher test scores and happier students. When creating a space, a windowsill seating area is a great way to make use of this. This is because it’s cheap and included in the architecture. Planting on a windowsill to draw students’ attention to the outside world is one suggestion.

Another suggestion is to consider whether activities that occur in rooms with lots of natural lighting might be better suited to those with less.

If your classroom relies on artificial light, then you can even use adjustable LED lighting to imitate daylight so that you can help to improve the student’s mental well-being and mood.

Natural daylight impacts your circadian rhythm. The daily clock inside your brain that controls things like sleep and attentiveness. This clock can be impacted by environmental factors such as lack of exposure to daylight. If the rhythm is disturbed it can knock our natural clocks out of sync which can in turn negatively affect our sleep, physical health, and mood. Many of the twenty first century challenges are linked to our internal clocks being out of sync.

Lisa Norton: Biophilic designer at harrogategardendesign.co.uk

Things we can do to help in an education setting in an urban environment:

Increase natural daylight, reduce artificial lighting, replicate natural daylight through lighting systems, and encourage kids to play outside. In cases of bad weather natural ventilation will help deliver fresh air and increase oxygen levels.

  • Water and plants to reduce stress and mental health risks

Having more greenery around may help students recover from the pressures of living in a built up environment. In addition to reducing stress and boosting immunity, a Danish study found that children with more green space were less likely to develop a mental illness as adults.

Selecting indoor plants which are efficient at cleaning toxins from the air improves students’ overall wellbeing and physical health. Indoor air pollution is a key element tackled through biophilic design. Air cleaning plants can be introduced through living walls and indoor planting schemes

Lisa Norton: Biophilic designer at harrogategardendesign.co.uk

Creating a biophilic learning environment by bringing plants into the classroom is a simple yet effective strategy and green walls are popular for this with biophilia based interior designers. In addition to including plants as air cleaners, they can be part of the curriculum – students can care for them, prune them, monitor their growth proving a direct experience with nature.

Plants can provide some unexpected sensory benefits beyond their visual impact in the classroom. The sounds and smells of a flowering garden or dripping hydroponic farm can reduce stress and enhance mood.

Biophilic design is using natural elements like wood, colours like browns, and placing plants.
Biophilic design is using natural elements like wood, colours like browns, and placing plants.
  • Natural shapes and textures to increase prosocial behaviour

In order to create an environment that feels natural, biophilic designers use natural forms and textures (e.g., leaves, curves, lush grass, geometric patterns found in nature). Students can work at leaf-shaped desks, huddle around a book on a rug that looks like a tree or sit on stools with grass-like textures.

An excellent biophilic design will consider the whole classroom and interior space, paying attention to how students move between multiple learning areas beyond the individual design elements. By creating natural systems, the children improve their attention and human health through simply the use of natural geometries.

  • Nature patterns and imagery improve memory and attention

When students are indoors, there are a lot of visual stimuli that grab their attention, and this leads to distractions and brain fatigue. However, if you look at natural imagery, it allows the brain to recharge. These mini breaks allow students to improve their focus in the classroom. Some schools even offer calming areas that are nature-themed in order for students to de-stress before returning to the classroom.

Classrooms that include nature pictures by putting up art, wallpaper, wall decals or selecting furniture with natural scenes printed on them have increase biophilic design elements. In addition to the wall décor, you can also include classroom features that are reminiscent of natural patterns such as waves, leaves, bark or ripples.

And by creating a more welcoming learning space, then the pupil’s school attendance should also improve with the will to learn.

biophilic garden in school
A biophilic garden can stimulate during playtimes in the school play areas and outdoor space

What are the advantages of a biophilic garden?

The inclusion of biophilic principles in educational settings can positively impact mental health, physical well-being, and brain function. In addition to boosting test scores and reducing symptoms of ADHD, biophilic design in schools can also promote optimal health and increased learning.

The playground is a great example of how biophilic design can be used in playtime environments to improve children’s behaviour, concentration, and mental balance. In an increasingly urban setting where nature is regularly inaccessible, children benefit from an environment that creates a connection between them and natural landscapes. And this can apply to nurseries too, a critical age for cognitive development.

Concrete and grass make up most school grounds; however, they can be transformed into ecologically rich learning spots for children. The manifesto for learning outside in the fresh air has emphasised the benefits of outdoor learning because school gardens provide a unique setting for learning through experience. The inclusion of biophilic elements can only be positive as well as educational.

  • Fostering human understanding of natural processes

Urban gardening’s healing and social benefits give students the opportunity to learn about nature and thereby promoting biophilia. They can develop a cognitive awareness of the interconnectedness of various elements of nature through gardening and ongoing engagement with the garden’s natural environment. Biophilic gardens give people a place to learn about biotic and abiotic interactions and relationships between creatures.

  • Increasing Human-Nature Interactions

Human participation and behaviour in nature have been studied, and a connection between physical contact with natural elements and environmental decision-making has been inferred. Through all human senses; smelling, touching, hearing, human drive to nature is expressed through immersive and human interactions with natural materials fundamental in biophilic design.

  • Sensory elements promote calmness

Listening to nature sounds can help non-visually connect students with nature, promoting psychological improvement and wellness as well as creating a calm, healthy environment. A relaxing ambience can be produced by the calming sounds of birds chirping, water flowing and leaves rustling in the wind from the natural world.

While introducing biophilic design in schools in noisy urban areas can struggle, these can easily be enhanced with the right changes.

  • Aromas create energizing atmosphere

Humans’ memories can be strongly triggered by natural scents, such as the smell of rain, flowers, grass, and other things. A truly energetic and soothing impact may result from using flowers as potted plant specimens, planting different fruit trees, and growing vegetation and foliage around the biophilic garden to bring aroma to the schooling outdoor environment atmosphere.

  • Create a landscape that reduces stress and creates safety

Two of the primary elements of biophilic designs include prospect (unrestricted sight lines over distance) and refuge (protection from harsh environmental conditions and safety for environments). These conditions are linked with reduced stress, fatigue, and boredom, and they improve safety perception and sense of comfort which is important in school outdoor spaces.